The Buffalo Bisons are getting down to the nitty-gritty of their season.
Starting tonight in Syracuse, the Herd's final 38 games are all within the International League North Division and that's good news for a Buffalo team that has a 27-15 record against North foes.
The Herd completed its interdivision schedule with Friday's 5-2 win over the Charlotte Knights, earning a split of a four-game series and completing its homestand with a 6-3 record.
The Bisons are probably thankful they're done with the IL South, as they finished 12-18 against that quartet. They were just 2-6 against Charlotte but got the job done with victories the last two days.
A crowd of 14,381, the fourth-largest of the season in Dunn Tire Park, saw lefty John Koronka (1-2) throw seven shutout innings for his first win as a Bison.
"It was very important that we salvaged a split against a team that's played us tough all year," said manager Torey Lovullo. "In the heat of a pennant race, it gives us a nice push for an extended road trip that's going to be a crucial one."
The win left the Bisons 1 1/2 games behind first-place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the North and 1 1/2 games ahead of Durham in the wild-card race.
Prior to the game, the parent Cleveland Indians made some major moves with the Bisons' roster. Pitcher Cliff Lee, an 18-game winner two years ago who is just 5-8 this season, and outfielder Ben Francisco were optioned to the Herd and Bisons closer Edward Mujica was called to Cleveland. Lee reported to the team late Friday so he could catch the bus today to Syracuse for the opener of the 10-game trip (7 p.m., Radio 1230 & 1330 AM).
Buffalo shortstop Hector Luna (.251 batting average, team-high 21 errors) was designated for assignment so the Tribe could make room on its 40-man roster for outfielder Kenny Lofton.
"With the moves, it was a chance for us to be easily distracted but we did a nice job all the way around tonight," Lovullo said. "This team is ready to make a push at the right time and I feel comfortable saying that."
Koronka, acquired on waivers earlier this month from Texas, had lost his first two starts with the Herd and had not pitched past the fifth inning in either. But he was far better Friday, retiring 13 of the first 15 men he faced and scattering six singles.
"It's good to get out there on a consistent basis," said Koronka, who was 7-7 in 23 starts for the Rangers last year. "I'm just trying to attack the [strike] zone early and guys are making good plays behind me. [Catcher] Mike Rose and I were on the same page and I had a chance to get into a rhythm."
Koronka escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh by getting Chicago White Sox outfielder Darin Erstad, down in the minors on injury rehab, to line out to second baseman Joe Inglett.
"He's definitely a guy you bear down on," Koronka said of Erstad, who had 240 hits and 100 RBIs for the 2000 Anaheim Angels.
The Bisons took the lead in the fourth on Ryan Mulhern's two-out solo home run to right, his team-high 13th of the season and first since June 30 at Rochester. The Herd extended the lead to four runs on Keith Ginter's bases-clearing double to left-center with one out in the sixth.
Sean Smith (9-6) pitches for Buffalo tonight against Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Gustavo Chacin, making his second start on an injury rehab assignment for Syracuse. Smith beat Chacin, 3-1, Monday night in the opening game of the teams' second straight doubleheader.